I am sitting in my verandah as I type this week’s column with a heavily overcast sky and cool gusty wind that heralds rain. My home in suburban Islamabad is surrounded by hills, which teem with wildlife. Daylight signals a cacophony of partridge calls and sometimes the raucous mating call of the pheasant, while a multitude of birds have made the trees in our community, their home.
Mr and Mrs Rambo are the patriarch and matriarch of a large mynah family that consider drainage holes in our retaining walls as convenient condominiums. The Rambos begin their day early by staging a free for all on our lawn, accompanied by a din that could raise the dead from their graves. Thus satisfied, they hop into the verandah to produce a playlist of mimicked sounds that include a motorbike, our neighbour’s chickens and something that resembles my wife scolding our maid. This display ends, when I emerge from the front door carrying a bag full of crumbs and last night’s rice. As I walk to the large flat topped rock that seconds as a bird table, I am followed by at least half a dozen of these jokers, who hop a few feet producing soft clucking noises, then stop to comically nod their heads up and down in the most vigorous manner. As I strew the feast on their ‘table’, they hop onto the rock totally unafraid of my presence and begin feeding amid frequent squabbles as to who hogs the choicest morsels.
The Rambos are soon joined by Mr and Mrs Bob and their offspring. This is a family of wagtails, named because of the way they bob their tails up and down, while going about their business. This family usually feeds in the outer circle because of the rowdy and bullying demeanour of the mynahs.
The Rambos’ place in the hierarchy is soon compromised by the arrival of the coucals with their distinctive long tails gracefully trailing behind them. The arrival of these biggish birds is a signal for the Rambos and the Bobs to say their thanks and leave. The coucals, nicknamed as the ‘A Team’ are a finicky lot. They hop around the table picking up the largest of bread crumbs, but not touching the rice.
My attention is suddenly diverted from the ‘A Team’ to an agitated chattering in my apple trees and I know that I am being taken to task by my favourite tenants - yellow fluted bulbuls, who in spite of wrecking my fruit remain close to my heart, because of their beautiful song. Aware of the coucals’ voracious appetite, I shoo them away to make way for my feathered minstrels, who lose no time to flutter down for their meal, inches from my hands. Only an ornithologist can dilate on this; but no sooner do these birds finish their meal than they fly to their favourite tree and regale me with a two-minute rendition of what can best be described as a composition to surpass all compositions.
There is, however, an extended family that does not fancy the bird table, but gets its nourishment from the myriad of flowers in my garden. These are the tiny humming birds which, to my immense pleasure have chosen to breed in the thorny and aromatic ‘Crimson Glory’ that covers the front arch of my home. These tiny birds, which hold the world record for the number of wing beats per second and their ability to hover above flowers, come in two distinct colours - iridescent inky blue for males and drab for females. Despite their puny size, these wonderful creatures are unafraid of humans and streak through our verandah, passing so close to where we sit that one could almost catch them if one was fast enough.
When I was a child I was told that swallows never allow their feet to touch terra firma - for if this happens, they lose the ability to fly. As if to squash this ‘old wives’ tale’, the graceful swallows that cruise above the valley below my house, often come to drink at my bird fountain. I have also watched these small creatures of the air, alight on top of the rocks that fringe my lawn in search of insects.
Had I not been constrained by the space in this column, I would have gone on to talk about the hyper active black tits that dart on and off the bird table as agile thieves, or the pair of gentle doves that appear at the bird bath everyday unerringly at ten o’clock in the morning, in an amazing display of punctuality.
I have affectionately labelled all my feathered friends, as my family after being duly inspired by the great Gerald Durrell and his best selling work My Family and Other Animals. Someday perhaps, I too will sit on my keyboard and punch out my animal experiences under the title, The Animals in My Family.
The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.